You, Your Baby, and Caffeine
The baby is here! Break out the bubbly! Better yet, break out the coffee! You’ve limited your coffee and caffeine intake for months. Maybe you even quit caffeine altogether. Now that the long wait is over, you’re more than ready for that favorite ginormous irresistible coffee drink from your favorite coffee shop. Oh, wait … is that allowed?
One of the most common questions breastfeeding moms have is whether or not caffeine will affect their baby. How much is too much? Is any caffeine too much? And if it is too much, how will you know?
To answer this question, we turned first to the scientific literature. (Here at UpSpring, we’re kind of geeky like that.) And the scientific literature on caffeine and breastfeeding is a little underwhelming. Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot out there on the subject. Researchers in the field will be the first to admit it.
According to the National Institutes of Health Drugs and Lactation database “Insufficient high-quality data are unavailable to make good evidence-based recommendations on safe maternal caffeine consumption.” In 2018, researchers published a systematic review of the medical literature, looking at the effects of moms’ consumption of caffeine on breastfeeding infants. Their review included a whopping five studies, and they came to the same conclusion as NIH: “Evidence for recommendations on caffeine intake for breastfeeding women is scant, of limited quality and inconclusive.”
Not as helpful as we hoped, but it is what it is. Funding for studies on this topic is limited, so we still have a long way to go to get a robust body of research.
That being said, the research does give us some useful information. For instance, one of those five studies in the systemic review we just mentioned provided at least one helpful nugget. A nursing mother’s caffeine intake doesn’t appear to have any impact on her baby’s heart rate, sleep time, or night waking. That’s kind of a big deal, wouldn’t you agree?
What else can we glean from the research?
First, most breastfeeding mothers should be able to have some caffeine without affecting their baby. (Hallelujah!)
We’ve actually known this since 1984. The key finding of the study, to the joy of new mothers everywhere, is that a regular cup of coffee (just one, mind you. One.) does not pass on caffeine in any significant amount to your baby in breastmilk. Another study, published in the Korean Journal of Pediatrics, found that there are no detectable traces of caffeine in a baby’s urine when their mothers drink as much as 3 cups per day. (That study is a little iffy, because it doesn’t answer the question, how much caffeine will a baby absorb before it spills over into his urine?)
So, if one cup is okay, how much is too much? In the same Korean Journal of Pediatrics article, researchers suggested that once mom gets more caffeine than is in five cups, or 26 fluid ounces, of coffee, it can begin to affect the baby. Before you get too excited about those five cups, however, note that in the United States, five cups of coffee would more likely add up to at least 40 ounces, since a typical American regular size coffee is 8 ounces or more.
Second, only a tiny amount of the caffeine you take in makes it into your milk supply.
When mom has caffeine, it takes about one to two hours until it peaks in breastmilk.
And even then, it’s not much. According to that 2017 article published in the Korean Journal of Pediatrics, “the amount of caffeine transferred to breast milk is generally less than 1% of the amount consumed by the mother.”
Third, most babies can metabolize the tiny amounts of caffeine they get through their mother’s milk.
How does that little bit of caffeine affect your baby? Well, forgive us for waffling, but we have to say it: every baby is different. Some babies can tolerate caffeine better than others. If, for instance, you consumed caffeine during your pregnancy (hey, no judgment from us), your baby may be more tolerant of it in breastmilk.
Keep in mind, though, that most newborns metabolize caffeine much more slowly than older infants. So an itty bitty newborn is more likely to be more sensitive to caffeine than a chubby-cheeked five-month-old.
Tanja Knutson, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC) (www.tanjaknutson.com), explains further. “A newborn might take up to 100 hours (almost five days) to metabolize the caffeine in its system, whereas a six-month-old might only take two to three hours.”
Fourth, caffeine may not have an effect on a baby’s sleeping habits.
In a 2012 study, researchers looked at whether caffeine use by mothers affected the sleep habits of their 3-month-old infants. The bottom line? Nope, not really. Infants whose mothers consumed 300mg of caffeine or more per day were slightly more likely to wake up their parents at night because they wakened, but it wasn’t statistically significant. Babies do wake up at night, of course, but researchers concluded that the caffeine wasn’t a contributing factor. (So set aside that guilt, mom!)
If you crave the taste of coffee but also want to be sure you’ll have enough milk for your baby, consider using a product like UpSpring Milkflow Fenugreek + Blessed Thistle Lactation Supplement Coffee Drink Mix. Another option is to introduce coffee gradually back into your diet and see what happens (more about that in a minute).
Moderation is your mantra.
So here’s where we’ve landed: while you’re breastfeeding, it’s probably best to enjoy caffeine in moderation. We fully recognize that the concept of moderation may or may not be helpful here. Let’s face it: when it comes to coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) one woman’s moderation means “I’ll just have half a cup because I miss the taste of it” while that same half-cup is another woman’s “I’m just getting started.”
Once again, we checked in with lactation consultant Tanja Knutson. What does moderation really mean? “Anywhere between 150 to 300mg of caffeine – which is about one to two cups of regular coffee (8-ounce cups),” Knutson says. The terms “regular” and “8-ounce” are key here – coffee from a coffee shop can be higher in caffeine, and portion sizes are often much larger than 8 ounces.
Caffeine can sneak into your life without your realizing it. If you’re a big tea drinker (even green tea, or herbal teas such as yerba mate), the caffeine milligrams can add up. You probably know that colas contain caffeine. But so do a few other soft drinks, including Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper.
Good news: Your baby comes with a built-in alarm system if she gets too much caffeine.
How will you know if your baby is reacting to the caffeine? She may be unusually fussy, irritable, or not sleeping well. Fussy babies (regardless of the cause) may have difficulty latching on.
If you’ve been consuming caffeine, and then realize that’s what’s making your baby fussy, what should you do? Should you pump and dump?
That’s an emphatic “no,” says lactation consultant Tanja Knutson. “Introducing a bottle or formula at this time might only add a new form of fussiness. In general, baby’s reaction to caffeine is happily short-lived.”
In Knutson’s experience, most of the time it takes only a day or two for the effects of the caffeine to wear off. While you’re waiting for those effects to dissipate, you have one of the best methods of comfort at your disposal. “More cuddles and skin-to-skin can be very beneficial any time a baby is fussy,” Knutson explains. “Continuing to breastfeed will be the most comforting thing for your baby.”
Once your baby bounces back to normal, you can try resuming caffeine gradually. Start with a half a cup of coffee and see how your baby responds. If you find you need more caffeine to keep up with the demands of your life plus a new baby, be kind to yourself, Knutson advises. “It’s okay to listen to your body, to take a nap in the middle of the day if you can, or to get less done.”
Need Lactation Support With A Kick Of Caffeine While on the go?
Each serving of Milkflow® coffee-flavored drink mix delivers a concentrated Fenugreek extract plus Blessed Thistle to help promote healthy breast milk supply.* Made with naturally-sourced herbs and naturally-occurring caffeine, Milkflow provides a delicious pick-me-up for nursing mamas!
1. Drugs and lactation Database (LactMed) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501467/
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